Anxiety to me feels like an unpleasant, repetitive and worried voice that never, or rarely, stops.
When it’s manageable, it feels like barely audible nagging background noise. When it’s not so manageable, it feels like my mind is a broken ferris wheel that accidentally got lodged on turbo speed mode and all the kids have been flung off and are screaming for their life. It builds momentum with each turn. I’ve found that most of the time, the best way to slow the ferris wheel is by venting to people. But some people soothe my anxiety, while others can ignite it like a match in a dry forest. They might ask a question I didn’t think to worry about and then off I go down another rabbit hole. I figured that instead of relying on others, I needed to figure it out myself. So, I booked my first ever appointment with a counsellor.
When I arrived at the appointment I was told to take a seat until my name was called. I sat down and flipped through a magazine, noticing the bland paintings on the wall. Why don’t they fill the walls with interesting art work? I thought to myself. Finally, a short older woman with long, dark brown hair peeked her head in the waiting area and called out, “Kimberly?” I joined her to her room and took a seat in a very uncomfortable chair which faced directly at hers. I realise now why Sigmund Freud used the lounge chairs, it’s so much easier to relax when you are sprawled out staring at the ceiling. You can just lay there without having to stare directly into the eyeballs of a person you just met a minute ago. I find eye contact in general uncomfortable.
When we talked about my anxiety and she guided me through two relaxation techniques. If you experience anxiety from time to time, you may find them useful to try out as well:
- Close your eyes and imagine a rainbow. Now think about your favourite colour in the rainbow, whichever one makes you feel the best. Then imagine inhaling that colour. Once your lungs are full of this colour, exhale the dark grey ‘anxiety’ within you. With each breath, watch this colour slowly permeate through the dark grey. Continue this exercise until all the dark grey is gone.
The other exercise was more of a way to equip myself like armour against anxiety.
- Imagine you are the main character of a TV show. Treat the next anxious and stressful situation as if it was on a tv show, what would you want the main character to do? It helps pull us away from ourselves in a way. Sometimes we are much better at offering support and advice to others but rarely do we offer the same support and encouragement to ourselves.
But the most powerful and interesting thing she said was that anxiety can actually be your friend, it can work for you rather than against you. She explained it like, “you have a sharp mind and if you don’t give it something to do, it will get up to mischief.” It reminded me of the metaphor I’ve used for my mind as being a disobedient dog. It feels like I am constantly retrieving it from places it has no business being. But there are times when my disobedient dog brain works for me and sits by my legs and listens to my demands. It’s usually when I’m reading a fascinating book, or am engulfed by a riveting conversation, or learn something new about the mind or our artificial intelligent future. These are rare to come and vary in potency, but when they do, the thought goes so deep inside my head, I forget where I stop and theirs begins. I spend hours daydreaming and thinking about it. It’s amazing.
Out of all the techniques, I’ve learned that the best way to deal with my hyperactive mind is to give it a large bone to keep it happy and busy. I will look for things I actually want it to do and keep it focused on productive things. Perhaps one day I’ll get to the point where I won’t need a bone to keep it reeled in. Maybe over time, it’ll learn to go exactly where I want it. I guess that’s the Dalai Lama level and I have a lot of training to do in the meantime…
If you experience anxiety, what things do you find helps you the best? What’s your best method of self-regulation?